K-RITH Masters student Amanda Wellmann has been awarded Best Oral Presentation for her talk at the recent 5th Conference of the South African Immunology Society (SAIS).

Wellmann’s presentation was on Innate Lymphoid Cells (ILCs) and their involvement in tuberculosis (TB). ILCs are a novel subset of immune cells that have links to tissue repair and remodelling in the lung. They are also central to granuloma formation.

“Because granuloma formation and tissue remodelling are key aspects of TB pathology, we hypothesised that ILCs could be involved,” Wellmann explains.

Along with her colleagues in K-RITH’s Leslie Lab, she is looking at resected human lung samples from TB patients and TB-negative controls to see if the cells can be detected, and whether they are functional. While the project is on-going and they can’t draw any conclusions yet, Wellmann says they have found several interesting pieces of evidence so far.

The SAIS conference, held in Muldersdrift in Gauteng in early March, had a special focus on the immunology of the mother and child. There were also talks from local and international researchers on immunology in infectious diseases, immune tolerance, mucosal immunity and clinical immunology.

It is the first meeting Wellmann has attended that focussed solely on immunology. “I really enjoyed the mix of topics that were covered; things I hadn’t really thought about like immunity in infertility or childhood allergies,” she says. “Besides the talks, it was a great opportunity to network with local immunologists from South Africa – and it has even led to an exciting new collaboration with an ILC group at the University of Cape Town.”

Wellmann’s attendance at the conference was fully funded by an SAIS scholarship, and she has encouraged other researchers interested in immunology to join the society.

“It forms part of the Federation of African Immunology Societies and the Union of Immunology Societies, which means members also have access to global and regional immunology workshops.”